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RESPONSE TO TIM DAGGETT’S COMMENTARY: IS AMERICA FALLING AWAY FROM ITS FOUNDING PRINCIPLES, OR INTO THEM?
ORIGINAL ARTICLE FOUND IN JUNE 11 ISSUE
Response by Jacob Giese
I would first like to open this response by saying that Mr. Daggett is a good friend of mine and that I respect him a great deal as a thinker. I would also like to say that his constant self effacement, as evidenced in the article that I am responding to, hides an intellect and love of thought and thoughtful things that one seldom sees in the world today. As to the article in question, I feel that while well intentioned, includes a very specific error that needs to be cross examined.
The most glaring hole in the commentary is how my friend uses the word “liberty.” That is, he takes the word by its most broad and flexible meaning; what I would call a “progressive/libertarian” meaning. This meaning puts all weight in the letter of the law, but none in the spirit of the law; a small but important point. Liberty, so defined in this sense means that one is free to do as one will. That pornography, prostitution, drug use, as well as anything else that does not obviously inflict immediate, physical harm on another person is morally permissible for the reason that morality is subjective insofar as other people’s “liberty” is not infringed upon.
The problem with this definition of liberty, however, is that it is as utopian as the socialism of Marx and like socialism assumes that people will innately subject their personal wants for the greater good when push comes to shove, ergo preventing cataclysmic destruction of society. Of course, as my friend so ably observes in his commentary, the whole of history has shown that utopia has been sought for with disastrous every time it has been attempted. But while Mr. Dagget is certainly no utopian I believe he has fallen into a common error that many younger, conservative minded people find themselves in. That is, they assume that this meaning of liberty, to one extent or another was that which formed the very basis of government at the Founding of this country.
However, the Founders of our country knew no such description of liberty. They would have thought this view more akin to some insidious anarchy. As proof, let us remember that the liberties that our forefathers fought for were, to our complex, modern minds very simple. No taxation without representation, no soldiers being quartered in the homes of private civilians, no to the king replacing elected colonial leaders with his own royal governors. This was all put for in the Declaration of Independence. Later, under the ratified Constitution the founders did strangely little to change the government they had been under other than slightly lessen and divide its powers. Under England, we had a King, a Parliament (the House of Lords and the House of Commons), a law court and a Constitution. Our fledgling nation, in contrast (or lack thereof) had a President, a Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives), the Supreme Court and a written Constitution. Many of the rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights were rights that the colonists had enjoyed anyways under King George, so long as they remained in his good graces. So what liberties were they really fighting for? The answer is in once sense simple, in another difficult and not easy to condense (as most very true things are). What the founders fought for was what we might call “ordered liberty.” That is, a society where certain freedoms which they believed were from God Himself, and evident in nature should be protected under law; all else in society, as it had been before the Revolution, aught to be directed by a person’s faith and church, his family, his schooling etc. This was not a liberty defined by a subjective moral ambiguity. It was defined by a society of people which was firmly held intact by their associations, institutions, religions, virtues and families. Take for instance this quote by President John Adams:
“Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the governance of any other”
Far from a “libertocracy” (where anything goes) or a theocracy (which Mr. Daggett asserts is what modern Christian conservatives view America is rightly) the founders believed their government could only work and function under a regime that depended upon the personal uprightness of the citizen before God (by which most of them meant the God of Christianity) and community. Our government did not, as Mr. Daggett correctly points out, have as its core purpose the glorification of the Lord of Hosts but the founders. But our founders definitely recognized that for this constitutional republic to even function as it should required a personal dedication to glorifying God and practicing virtuous living on the part of every individual. This is not cannibalizing Christianity, it is the realization of the centrality of faith and virtue (which the founders almost universally attributed to the Christian faith) in the functioning of a truly just and upright civil society that recognizes the intrinsic value of every human and that recognizes a man’s natural sovereignty over himself before God.
Modern cries of “liberty” for homosexuals to marry or adopt children, and calls for legalization of prostitution and the like are just that; modern. These belong not to the War of Independence, and the founder’s fight for freedom, but to the creeds of the secular humanists (who are very different from the Christian humanism the founders espoused) and to the progressives who deny Natural Law, Christianity as a solid foundation for the individual, and therefore the country, and ordered liberty under the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Since the turn of the twentieth century, and increasingly since the Sexual Revolution of the sixties, these progressives and secularists have promoted erroneous pluralism, which divides the nation into camps instead of uniting it in ordered liberty. They also promulgate the insidious lie that if the Constitution does not bar a certain behavior or mention it by name, that it must either allow it, or outright require it. Federalism and state laws aside, the only thing that is constitutional about gay marriage or other thing mentioned in this article, in the sense that the Constitution, in both its letter and its spirit (spirit: being what the founders and writers of the subsequent amendments meant the letter to mean), would be the right to discuss it in the press and the public square. No other right can be inferred from the text with integrity, except, perhaps, the Tenth Amendment which leaves a good deal of power to the state governments. But there again, a truly stable rule of law must be based on original intent, not on the moral whims of the day accepting the purposeful occasion of an ammendment; and the states must apply this principle to their own constitutions as well.
I would therefore conclude by saying that Mr. Daggett, my friend, is not wrong in his assertion that the progressive/libertarian “liberty” leads, inevitably to the kind of moral debauchery that we see today. But he is wrong to say that this sort of mechanic was the philosophical basis for our government, and that we should not resist the claims of rights for those people who claim rights they never had under law. He is also right that, in the realm of history, all civilizations ultimately fail. However, America, does not, and never did lean on the goodness of man as its core. Our founders knew that God must make man good for man to be free. And that is a very encouraging thought. Perhaps America will never be what it was. But, being the perpetual optimist that I am, this shows us that the cure is not politicians, or policy, but invariably a return to history and Christ in our nation. Not to create a theocracy but to preserve a beautiful gift that our forefathers, acting on their knowledge of history, God and Christianity, left for us. Namely: liberty.